Michael Quiñones
February 10, 2018 10:49 PM

The Winter Olympic Games is not frequently a showcase of Latin-American talent, but for 2018, Mexico and Puerto Rico are represented in South Korea — and there are some inspiring characters and stories to follow. Here’s a roundup.

Puerto Rico is competing with its own athlete in the Winter Olympics for the first time since 1998: 17-year-old Charles Flaherty. Flaherty’s family moved to the island from Cincinnati in 2010 (an athlete is required to have lived in Puerto Rico at least three years to represent it in competition). Inspired by watching the Sochi Games in 2014, Flaherty is one of the youngest Olympians in Pyeongchang and will race the men’s giant slalom.

Charles Flaherty
Courtesy Ann Flaherty

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still recognizes Puerto Rico as a country and allows it to field its own competitors. In 2002 after deeming one of its bobsled team members ineligible, the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee withdrew its recognition of the Winter Sports Federation and no athletes were allowed to represent the commonwealth for the next three Winter Games. Other territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam have been recognized as “independent states” by the IOC.

Mexico has four representatives at the Games, the most since the 1992 Games in France, in three different types of skiing. Each athlete symbolizes multiculturalism.

German Madraza, Robert Franco, Rodolfo Dickson and Sarah Schleper (from left)

Rodolfo Dickson qualified for Alpine skiing’s men’s slalom and men’s giant slalom. Born to two Mexico-born parents, he was orphaned at 9 months and adopted by a Canadian couple living near his orphanage in Puerto Vallarta at 3. He was also diagnosed with learning disabilities, possibly stemming from foster care. During a vacation in Quebec at 6 years old, he donned skis and the rest is Olympics history. The 20-year-old also graduated high school as an “Ontario scholar” in 2015.

Sara Schleper (aka Sarah Schleper de Gaxiola), born and raised in the Colorado Rockies, is also competing in slalom and giant slalom. She was a four-time U.S. Olympic skier before retiring in 2011. In June 2014, two months after gaining Mexican citizenship, she came out of retirement at 35 to ski for Mexico. Her Mexican husband Federico Gaxiola and three children will be rooting for Schleper, 38, who supports young Mexican skiers.

Sarah Schleper at the Opening Ceremonies Feb. 9
Vadim Ghirda/AP/REX/Shutterstock

German Madraza, 43, will represent Mexico in cross-country skiing, and was flag-bearer for the Opening Ceremonies. The longtime triathlete, from Queretaro, Mexico, picked up the winter sport less than two years ago because he heard it was tougher than his Iron Man competitions. He has lived in McAllen, Texas, for about a decade.

Mexico's flagbearer German Madrazo

Though Robert Franco was born in California, he has dual Mexican-American citizenship due to his Guadalajaran father. Franco, who will compete in men’s slopestyle, lives in Mexico and has been known to train on gravel due to the lack of ski facilities in the country. It must be working: He qualified for the Olympics with a fifth place in the World Cup in Italy.

Team Mexico fans have something else to get excited about: fun Dia de Los Muertos–inspired uniforms.

Alpine skiing at the Winter Olympics consists of four main groups: downhill, super giant slalom, slalom, giant slalom. Super-giant slalom and downhill races have fewer turns and are thus faster. Slalom races have courses with short tight turns, whereas giant slalom races have courses set with wider turns.


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